Author Archive
general
Humor
Musical

Oh Alice

“One of the things I remember about growing up was that my mom would sing me funny songs and after she would sing them she would crack up. Even though my family experienced a lot of loss and pain, it was always great to hear my mom’s laugh. One of the songs she used to sing was about Alice. When she sang it she thought it was so funny, but it would scare me. I was a little girl and I thought I might go down the drain!”

The lyrics are as follow:

Alice, where are you going?

Upstairs to take a bath

Her shape is like a toothpick

Her head is like a tack

Oh my goodness, oh my soul there goes Alice down the hole!

Oh Alice, where are you going?

An audio recording of Gloriadele Guzman (the mother of the informant, referenced above) singing the song has been provided: Oh Alice

I collected this song from my mother. It was fun for me because I also remember my grandmother singing me this song when I was a little girl. I had always thought it was a song my grandmother had made up but I found some other versions of the song online. My grandmothers version is slightly different. Some of the other version include more details that has caused some people to infer that the song is actually about Alice in Wonderland.

For one of the other versions of this song please see: http://www.rahelmusic.net/lyrics-kidsongs.html

Folk Beliefs
general

Don’t step on the falcon

“Our mascot for my high school is a falcon. They have a big tile mosaic thing of a falcon in the quad and you’re not supposed to walk on it, especially on game days. And especially when we played our rivals, Los Gatos High School. It’s right in the middle of the quad. It’s supposed to be bad luck if you step on it. I’m not really sure if it works or not but I never stepped on it just in case. Also I never played sports but I still didn’t do it.”

My participant is not an athletic person and did not participate in athletics in high school. I found it intriguing that despite her lack of interest or involvement in sports she still subscribed to the superstitions associated with her high school mascot. I was also surprised that it was bad luck to step on the falcon when it was located in such a public place as the school quad since it would be an easy mistake for pedestrians to make.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Initiations

Kicking the Flag Pole

“When USC students go to football games, as they head off of campus they kick the flagpoles on the edge of campus. It’s suppose to be for good luck. It’s supposed to help the team win. I heard about it when I was at orientation and the guide pointed at the poles and told us that ‘All the students kick theese poles on the way to the Collesium.’ It’s like a superstition thing. I have done it once during freshman year when I went to a game and sure enough when I did it I saw tons of other people doing it too. It’s definitely caught on.”

As a fellow student at USC I know this tradition to be true. It is interesting to note that this was taught during the orientation process to the university. During orientation at USC students are not only taught official protocols of the university but they are also taught about the unofficial culture of the campus, through an official medium. The kicking of the flag pole could even be considered a ‘right of passage’ for students attending football games. As if only the true fans and devoted students partake in this good luck ritual. This tradition is not only to ensure success for the football team during the game, but also an initiation into true fandom.

Festival
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Semester at Sea- Neptune Day

“There alot of weird traditons on ships. The one I will tell you about is called Neptune Day. Back in the day sailing was really hard, people died all the time, it was real smelly, your chances of making it off the ship were slim. Ships are hard. Seaman….hahaha, had this tradition that when you cross the equator, ‘Woo hoo! You’ve survived!’ It’s a big feat because most people don’t. Clearly this is the future, we wouldn’t die, things didn’t really smell for us, but we still kept tradition. I was there as a student, but for the people who actually run the ship this tradition is really important and we do it to honor them. And it’s just fun. There’s 600 people on a ship and sometimes you just need things to do so you plan an activity for a bunch of college kids. On my ship we did this, they do it every voyage, but we crossed the Equator and the Prime Meridian at the same time, so 0’0″. Normally when you cross the Equator you go from a ‘slimy scally wag’ to a ‘shellback’. But because we also crossed at the Prime Meridian we became ‘emerald shellbacks.’ So we were at the heart of the world. And everyone is really excited and it’s this whole big thing. We have a pool on the ship; you jump into a pool of fish guts. And then you get doused with salt and then you kiss a fish. Our dean, this prestigious guy, paints himself green and is King Trident. He shakes your hand after you get out of the pool, get doused in salt and kiss the fish. And all the teachers dress up, they come out as a parade, and are kind of creepy. There were some kids on the ship too, the teachers kids and they get to dress up too. The students dress up too though, like war paint. Also some people shave their heads. A lot of guys do it. Some girls did it too and gave their hair to Locks of Love. Everyone  watches and cheers you on as you do it. I think it’s from back in the day that people would get lice and needed to shave their heads on ships. And ya that’s pretty much it. It’s a fun day. It’s supposed to be like you’ve earned your ‘sea legs’ after being on the course. I did not shave my head; I’m an actor so I can’t do that. I did shave my friends head though. But I did do the fish guts, salt thing. You didn’t HAVE to do that, but you like kinda did.”

This festival is particularly interesting because it draws on ancient traditions of the sea but also incorporates modern additions, like giving the shaved hair to charities. Upon doing a little more research I discovered that ‘shellbacks’ is meant to mean ‘Sons of Neptune’ and another variant on ‘slimy scally wag’ is (slimy) polywogs. There are historical records going back as far as the early 1800’s describing this ritual of crossing the equator as performed on Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian ships. My participant experienced this tradition while on an academic experience but it is also performed by many naval groups in the United States and Russia. As Captain Robert Fitzroy noted it “was beneficial for moral.” This ritual seemed to have been a really positive and fun experience for my friend. She remembered it fondly and it seemed like one of the most memorable experience she had while on her trip.

Customs
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gypsy Robe

“I use to do community theater at this place called Starstruck. Theater people are just weird in general and we love weird traditions and culty kind of stuff, anything that nobody else might know about is great. A gypsy robe is a tradition with this theater company that you work on the show, you work really hard, and then everybody votes on who gets the gypsy robe. If you’re new, maybe somebody might tell you what it means, but probably not. You just have to figure it out when it happens. So we all load into the theater and it’s opening night and we all go to the stage to warm up. We do a group warmup: singing, dancing, weird theater shit. And then it comes the part when it gets really emotional and the director gives a speech like “You guys have done such a great job, we’re so ready, it’s going to be great, it’s going to be sold out.” Stuff like that; weepy weepy, cute, inspirational stuff. Whatever. So all that happens and its right before they let all the people in the house. The house is all the audience seats. We’re all on the stage and they can’t let the audience in until we get off. So then the director, as though she has a secret to tell, ‘Ok so some of you may know about this and some of you don’t know yet…’ I’ve been in their children’s shows and professional shows but when I first got introduced to it I was in high school so it was a really big deal. She points backstage and the stage manager would go and get this robe. It says ‘gypsy robe’ on the lapel and has trinkets on it from every show they’ve ever done. Well since they started the gypsy robe anyways. The trinket is embroidered onto the robe with the show name and attached is a prop, or a piece of the set or a piece of costume. It supposed to have something to do with the show but sometimes the things are random and then it’s like an inside joke and therefore even cooler, but doesn’t make sense. *laughs* So then the director takes a full sweep around the circle, showing off the robe, talking about the robe, saying what it means and gives the background, and says ‘One person has stood out and we all voted and came to the conclusion that _____(name)___ deserves the gypsy robe!’ She would then meaningful walk over the gypsy robe to the winner. It’s always a person who doesn’t have a really big role. It’s probably someone whose done a lot of shows with them already, put in your dues kind of shpeal, and you probably deserved a way better role than you got, but you stayed with the show and were in ensemble and didn’t really complain about it. It’s a prize but it’s pretty political now that I think about it. You’ve got the gypsy robe, you’re basically like MVP of the show/ Miss Congeniality of the show. So they put the robe on you and you’re so excited and then someone starts the gypsy robe song. I think it’s a real song but they put different words to it. “Cotton candy, sweet n low, let me touch your gypsy robe.” I can’t remember the rest of the song but, everyone is clapping, and stomping, dancing around the circle. The winner starts from their spot and run/dance around the whole circle. Everyone is supposed to touch you, like a pat on the back but some people use this as an opportunity to get weird. The winner makes it back to their spot and everyone is still singing and dancing. It’s like a dance party and then everyone cheers for the winner. The winner is suppose to wear the robe every night of the show, as they’re getting ready, before the show, every show. ”

Did you ever win the gypsy robe?

“I didn’t. I was ‘supposed’ to get it for Grease but then I didn’t. It was ok though, I liked the girl who got it. I was supposed to get it though so it was shit. It was extra political that year. Her mom was the costume designer.”

Have you heard of other theater groups doing this?

“I think they stole this idea from somebody else because I was with this performing arts center since 6th grade and they didn’t start it until 9th grade. ”

Even though you never technically won it, would you say this made it more fun and added to your experience?

“Mmm. Ehh. It was just kind of like a thing we did. It was just a nice thing we did on opening night. It’s nice to have tradition but it wasn’t an end all be all.”

I did some reserach and discovered the ‘gypsy robes’ are commonly given out in Broadway Musicals and goes back to the 1950’s. The ‘gypsy’ comes from “their continuous travel from job to job in show after show.” Some robes from popular musicals have even been housed in museums.

I thought it was interesting that she didn’t identify too personally with the tradition even though she was a member of this troupe for several years. It is most likely because she was snubbed and did not receive the award.

Folk speech
general
Humor

whore’s bath

“So a whore’s bath, it sounds funny but it means I don’t have time to take a shower but I’ll just douse myself in perfume, maybe some deodorant. Ya you put on ALOT of perfume and it’s funny because people think you smell really great but you haven’t even showered! So back in the olden day I guess it just meant, I don’ think people could really shower that often and they just had oils and aromas so that’s probaly where it came from historyically. But i learned it from my cousin Neghan. She’s Megan with an ‘H’. I don’t know if this really adds to the story but she’s the one who was my fake ID when I was younger so she was like my cool cousin. I was fake 24 for a real long time. She was my older cousin and older is therefore cool. She always said whore’s bath but I never knew what it was. Some of my other cousins said it too and my Aunt Yaya too. Aunt Yaya smoked alot of grass. *laughs*. I heard this term growing up but now as a 22 year old who is far less ashamed to ask a question, we were in Vegas, cuz we were driving across the country. And in Vegas you don’t have alot of time for showering and so she suggested that I take a ‘whore’s bath’ and I said ‘Well i don’t really know what that means.’ I may have also been a little intoxicated. She said ‘Just throw on a bunch of perfume and some deodorant and go!’ So that’s how I learned about it and I do it all the time *laughs*.”

I personally had never heard of this term. I did some research but I didn’t find anything concrete. It means different things to different people. For some it is similar to a sponge bath. For others it is to only clean the ‘critical’ areas, especially after sexual intercourse. There are several other variations on the definition.

I thought that the inclusion of perfume in my participants definition was interesting. Perfume is often used to heighten physical attraction and to attract a mate. Due to the sexual nature of the use of perfume or even more so the pronounced use of it can be associated with prostitutes.

Also, I found it notable that her use of “whore’s bath” was light and playful in nature. I would assume that even a few decades ago if someone had used the word ‘whore’ towards a women in any way it would be considered an insult. I think this points to the overtly sexual nature of American culture, where women call each other whore’s jokingly and do not use the word in a literal sense and maybe even in a complimentary way.

general
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Dirty jokes

“My grandpa, gosh, use to love to tell dirty jokes. He would say,’Want to hear a dirty joke? A white horse fell in the mud. Want to hear a dirtier one? It fell in again!’

My brother and sister and I use to try to come up with other things that were white to fall in the mud. We didn’t understand the dirty joke part because we were too little.”

So about how old were you?

“Like elementary school age. Six or seven.”

So you and your siblings would try and make up your own versions?

“Mhm. But it was just amongst ourselves. It was more to try to make our grandpa laugh right after he would say his joke.”

This was a repeated thing?

“Ya. I think it kind of stopped though. We ran out of white things and then we also realized what a dirty joke really was. We kind of just grew out of it.”

 

Dirty jokes are a popular genre of humor, but this joke is particularly funny because it uses both meanings of the word “dirty.” In doing this my informants grandfather ensured the joke was funny for both himself and his audience: children.

general

Scary story

“When I was in Elementary school there was this weird scary story, well it scared me to death at the time. This one girl, Samantha told me her babysitter told it to her.

This one girls parents left her home for a night, home alone and when the girl went to bed she felt her dog licking her hand and then heard dripping in the bathroom. Um and then she went into the bathroom and saw that her dog was dead in the bathroom with blood dripping. That was the dripping. And then she went back to her room and there was a man in there that killed her.

Samantha told everybody in our class this story, at least all the girls. She was a few years older than us so she seemed really cool and we believed her. ”

So about how old were you?
“I would say like second grade so seven or eight.”

For how long did this story scary you?

“It scared me for awhile. I would say, I asked my mom about the story and she said she had heard it too. So i stopped being so scared by it because I realized it was fake. But now I don’t know if she said that because it was true or she was just trying to make me feel better.”

Did it change any of your behavior, after hearing it?

“Not really. It just made me more cautious at night. I didn’t want to walk my house at night by myself. But I got over that.”

So this story wasn’t popular amongst the boys?

“No, it was definitely just the girls.”

 

The informant has provided a cautionary tale warning against children being (left) home alone. It is interesting that the informant noted that the story was directed towards the girls and not boys, even before I inquired again about it. The story warns against young females about being alone and not young boys. It could be said that females are more physically vulnerable than males. Also, girls especially young ones are more often victims of abuse and assault than their male counterparts. I also found it interesting that there is no implications that the girl in the story put herself in the position of being home alone so she is not directly responsible for the repercussions. I’m assuming since the original source of this story was a babysitter, her intention was to reinforce the important of her presence while the girls parents were away. Most elementary school kids perceive themselves to be older than they are and without need of adult supervision so this tale serves as a violent reminder that they still need to be taken care of and protected.

Customs
Holidays

Christmas exchange

“On my dad’s side of the family there’s about 50 people. He’s the youngest of 7 kids and they have kids and even they have kids. So it’s like three generations of people. We use to do a gift exchange where we drew names with a price limit according to the generation. But now we have a new tradition where we donate to charity instead. We keep the same price limit, $40 for my dad’s generation, $30 for my age group and so on. So like my generation would pull $30 from everyone in that age group. Each age group pulls their collections into a group. And then each year, it rotates between the seven siblings, their family decides where the donations go to. So this year will be my dad’s ‘turn.’ My dad and mom will choose where their age groups donation is going to. And then my brother and I will pick where the money is going to for the collection from our generation.”

I find this tradition interesting because in the last few decades, with globalization there has been a movement towards more humanitarian actions. People have become more aware through media of human rights, health issues, natural disasters, and other struggles communities and groups are facing. This family tradition of my roommate reflects this awareness. Because her family is made up of so many members they are able to make a sizable contribution. They are definitely focusing on the theme of giving during the American “holiday season” and not of receiving. It goes against what the Christmas tradition has morphed into with the consumer culture that has developed in American and Western society. It’s also great that they involve the younger generations as well and teach them this selflessness from an early age.

Folk Dance
general
Humor
Initiations
Musical

La Tuna

“During my college years in the mid 80’s I was a member of a ‘Tuna” group in Spain. A “Tuna” is a group of university or college students who dress in traditional costumes and play traditional instruments and sing serenades. In essence the tradition of this student tuna band or ensembles seems to go back to the 13th century as reflected in some of the medieval literature. That’s how we know the 13th century part because some of the literature alludes to these roaming student ensembles who would play music largely to earn money. They would sing and in some place they were known as “sopantes” de “sopa” (soup). Like soup kitchens that we have here; people would feed them for free. So sometimes they were known as “sopantes.” So this tradition of these student ensembles was typical of Spain and Portugal and it made its way even to the Americas through Spain. So in Mexico and Peru and all of these countries that were part of the Spanish empire, when the Spanish came and founded their universities here. In 1551 Emperor Charles V granted the charter which established the university of San Marcos in Lima, Peru to other old universities like Mexico City and Santo Domingo. So the tradition spread into the countries of the Americas that way. Today this tradition has even spread into the Netherlands as well. Over time the original purpose of these ensembles disappeared. The students weren’t doing these serenades to get money, largely but it became established as a venerable tradition on university campuses. And like by the 19th century already they were established as a cultural activity or enterprise on campuses. It was now sponsored on the campuses like a club or a school marching band. And membership was through trial; you had to pass. Not only music but pranks and stuff too. All of these things were involved in being admitted into “Le Tuna.” Now the tradition is that each school like Medicine, Architecture, Humanities, Law, you know all of these, have their own. And the colors are set for each field or discipline. I think Medicine is yellow. Basic science is usually royal blue. But there’s green and red. So no matter if it’s from different universities, the schools have the same colors. The costumes are kind of old fashioned and reminiscent of Renaissance, 16th century. So the costumes include a cloak, a ‘dublet,’ which is a tight fitting jacket almost like a bolero jacket that goes on top of a white shirt that has big cuffs and collar, they are like puffy. And then the pants are called petticoat britches, Spanish britches that are fitted right under the knee. And then there’s tights, stockings and also pointy black shoes and the most important thing is the so called “beca.” The “beca” is a V-shaped band that goes over the shoulders and on top of the jacket. The color of it is characteristic of the field. And then on top of everything you wear a big, long cloak, typical of the 16th century. Each ‘tuno,’ pins ribbons of different colors and seals or coat of arms patches that are sewn on of all of the cities and countries that the group has played in. The ribbons are usually given by girls to the “tuno.” But the seals or the coat of arms from places are collected through the traveling. So the amount of ribbons and patches on the cloak tells you already about the ensemble member. Those that are seasoned will have their cloaks nearly covered with patches. And those who are more popular with girls with have more ribbons *chuckles*.  Traditionally, the girl who gives the ribbon would embroider messages onto them for example, “para el tuno mas simpatico” (for the most charming tuno)  or “para el tuno mas guapo” (for the most handsome tuno).  Mothers, aunts, grandmothers and sweethearts would give the ribbons.

The instruments consist of typical Spanish guitars, but also combine other traditional string instruments like “el laud” y “la banduria” and also, very typically tambourines. The tambourines are the quintessential ‘Tuna’ instrument. Also some “Tuna’s” use accordions. Ive’ seen on television that Mexican “Tuna’s” have incorporated the typical Mexican, “guitarron.”

There is not agreement as to the origin of the name. Some trace it to the King of Tunis in north Africa. The tradition says that there might have been a “King Tunez” who was very fond of music and was sort of a vagabond and would like to walk around the streets playing and singing. So apparently sometime in the middle ages or the Renessaince the term “you’re a king of Tunis” would be given to the leader of an itinerant band.  But most people think it comes from the Spanish word “tunante” which is almost like a villain, a rogue but you can also use it with children like in English when we say “you little scamp.” “Tunante” has the connotation of mischievous yet playful, not necessarily malicious because we use it often with children.  From the word “tunante” could have evolved the word “tuno.” So the group of “tunos” became “La Tuna,” the band of “tunos.” But nobody really knows for sure.

They play lots of traditional “folk” music. Many of the songs are “tuna” folk songs but also many others are just other traditional songs that the play in their serenades. In modern times, “tunos” incorporate some more modern, popular music. One of the most typical songs in any ‘tunas’ repertoire is “La Compostelana.” It’s a song named after the “Tuna Compostelana.” Compostelana comes from Santiago de Compostela.  Which is the city of Saint James in northern Spain that has one of the best known and well established universities in Spain, founded in 1495. So this song that every ‘tuna’ plays has a line that says “Que cada cinta que adorna mi capa guarda un trocito de corazon.” Which means: every ribbon that decorates my cloak, holds a piece of heart. So that’s where the idea of the ribbon comes from.

It’s interesting that today in modern, recent times the ‘tunas’ have nearly regained or gone back to the idea of playing to earn money. Because now it’s not uncommon that they are hired by people for institutions or special events, such as weddings or other celebrations and even special events. For example when there are foreign dignitaries that come to Spain or for conventions to serenade visitors. While I was “tuno” we got hired to do two weddings. I was kind of like the ‘buffoon’ of the group. I would be the one cracking all the jokes and had the tambourine. I was directly engaging the audiences. The lead of the group is the one who introduces the band, cracks jokes, talks with the audience, with the girls, does acrobatic jumps and throws the tambourine around. ”

Can you tell me about some of the initiation processes or pranks you mentioned?:

“The selection process when someone wants to be a part of the ‘tuna’ starts with musical skills. Do you know how to play an instrument? Can you sing reasonably? There’s also usually tests to see if the person is shy and able to be out late at night and interacting with audiences. They’re not usually cruel though. Like standing out on the street in your underwear. Or asking a guy to take a ‘clavel,’ a carnation and profess your love to a random girl. Or to play out in the street and ask people to put money in your hat. These tests were kind of embarrassing but not meant to be overly cruel, more to test for an outgoing personality of a member. Oh and I forgot to tell you, some of the bigger groups take summer tours. Some of them have lots of prestige and are like institutions and go on tours abroad or just in Spain. ”

So the group didn’t only sing songs, there was dancing and performance involved?

“Yes, at a certain point the “tunos” get girls from the audience to dance. They play paso dobles and take women out to dance with them. Sometimes it’s in auditoriums but others it’s out in the street or they might go to an airport or something.”

 

I had seen this picture of my dad before and knew it was from his days of being a “tuno.” But I didn’t have anymore details than that. It was really fun for me to hear about my dad’s memories from college, right about when he was my age. It appears that this tradition in Spanish universities is similar to the American college tradition of fraternities. In both they form a close group and have some forms of initiations, but the ‘Tuna” has a musical and performance aspect that the fraternities lack. As his daughter I only get to see tidbits of his humor, but knowing that he played the lead of the group and/or buffoon makes absolute sense. It was also entertaining for me to watch him giggle when he started explaining the interactions “La Tuna” would have with women. It was my impression that he was popular with the ladies, although he didn’t explicitly admit that.
Here is another explanation of the “Tuna” tradition: http://www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/society/customs/tuna.asp

[geolocation]